Something very strange has happened over the past three and a half months: President Donald Trump has started a book club of sorts – recommending no fewer than seven books to his Twitter followers.
The books are a mix of retellings of the 2016 campaign by Trump-friendly voices (his tweet this morning promoted “The Great Revolt”) and books written by commentators (Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt) and personal friends (Roma Downey, the wife of reality TV executive Mark Burnett). The common thread isn’t a policy perspective or even a political viewpoint. It’s Trump. These are all people who like Trump, and so he likes them. When they write a book, he tweets about it. (A full list of Trump’s recommended books is at the bottom of this post.)
Trump being all about Trump is, of course, par for the course. So why is this informal presidential book club so strange? Because Trump is a notoriously disinterested reader.
This, from Michael Wolff’s “Fire & Fury,” tells that story:
Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate. He trusted his own expertise -— no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s.
In February 2017, the New York Times reported this of Trump’s interactions with his National Security Council:
While Mr. Obama liked policy option papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, council staff members are now being told to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps.
“The president likes maps,” one official said.
And, it’s not just secondhand accounts that suggest Trump isn’t much of a reader.
In May 2016, in a sitdown with then Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly, Trump said his favorite book other than the Bible and “The Art of the Deal” was “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Kelly followed up by asking what the last book Trump read was. Here’s his answer:
“Oh, no, it’s so long, because now I read passages. I read – I read areas, I read chapters. I just – I don’t have the time. You know, when was the last time I watched a baseball game? I’m watching you all the time, okay….I would love to sit down and read a book, but I just don’t have the time anymore.”
In June 2016, Trump sat down with the Hollywood Reporter. Asked what books he was currently reading, he replied:
“I’m reading the Ed Klein book on Hillary Clinton…And I’m reading the book on Richard Nixon that was, well, I’ll get you the exact information on it. I’m reading a book that I’ve read before, it’s one of my favorite books, All Quiet on the Western Front, which is one of the greatest books of all time.”
The following month, Trump told The Washington Post of reading: “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” (The Post reported that there were no bookshelves in his office.) Explaining why he didn’t place much value in reading, Trump said that he reaches decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.”
The Post then asked Trump what presidential biographies he was reading to get ready for the job he was seeking. Trump offered no books in response.
Once elected, Trump kept to much that same view. “I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” the President himself told Axios in January 2017. “I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”
Look. Reading every biography ever written about all the men who have been president before you is not a prerequisite for the job. And lots of people – including most of the internet – prefers pictures, maps and charts to lots and lots of words.
But, most people who aren’t super into books don’t make a habit of recommending books to their 51 million closest friends.
Hence, the oddity.
The truth is that Trump almost certainly hasn’t read these books. He likely hasn’t even skimmed them. Instead, someone on his staff has told him that the book tells a story that is favorable to Trump or is written by a known FOT (Friend of Trump). Why not collect a chit from those people by tweeting about their books? And so, he does.
What’s less clear is how much actual impact the presidential seal of approval has on book sales.
Take Trump’s tweet Friday night on Andy Puzder’s book – “The Capitalist Comeback.” (Puzder, you may recall, was Trump’s nominee for labor secretary but removed himself from consideration after it was revealed he has employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper.)
At the time of the tweet, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter, the book was around No. 4,000 on Amazon’s rankings of best-selling books. By Saturday morning, the book had risen to around No. 500. The bump was temporary, however. On Monday morning, Puzder’s book was back in the low 2000s.
In fact, of the books Trump has tweeted about since February, only one – Earnhardt’s – is currently in Amazon’s top 100. The next highest ranking is “The Great Revolt” (#390), which comes out on Tuesday.
Still, a presidential tweet could make a book stand out from the pack, Publishers Weekly editorial director Jim Milliot told Stelter.
“Given the great need for a book to find a way to rise above the hundreds of thousands of books that are published annually any kind of plug from Trump would be welcomed,” he said.
Sure. But what’s clear is that Trump is no Oprah. Maybe that’s because, well, book buyers know that his recommendations aren’t based on merit or how much he enjoyed a book (That doesn’t mean the books he recommends aren’t good; just that Trump hasn’t read them or even skimmed them enough to know that.)
Trump recommends books the same way he lives his life: Transactionally – and always with an eye on punishing his enemies and rewarding his friends.
THE TRUMP BOOK CLUB
1. “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” by Salena Zito and Brad Todd
2. “The Light Within Me: An Inspirational Memoir,” by Ainsley Earhardt
7. “The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography,” by David Brody